March 2022 Sesshin, Day 5: Ordinary Wonder: Zen Life and Practice by Joko Beck
2:56PM Apr 7, 2022
This is the fifth day of this March, March and April 2022 sesshin, seven day sesshin. And I'm going to read today from a book by Charlotte Joko Beck, entitled, Ordinary Wonder: Zen Life and Practice. This is the third book that's been published compilation of her talks. It's posthumous she she had died before it was assembled. Really put together by her daughter, edited by Brenda Beck Hess. Joko Beck was the founding teacher of the Zen Center in San Diego, studied with my Maezumi Roshi, was authorized by him to teach that she broke with him fairly early on
for some pretty good reasons.
I was drawn to read from her from this book. After reading from goo goo, and this whole really thorough and wonderful examination of the attitudes that we bring to practice, especially the ones that support our practice.
We bring a lot of attitudes, and not all of them are helpful. And Joko is really good at pointing out the places where we're stuck. And yeah, really good advice. So I'm going to start reading from a section called a war within.
And she says, All human beings are at war with themselves. You may meet people all day long, who are smiling and seem self assured. Trust me, the wars are there. How clearly we see these wars, and whether we're seeing them has any effect on our life is another matter. For most of us, the war is not even conscious. So we have the usual human predicament. Not everyone is interested in the war. Some people will go to their graves seemingly impervious to it. But if you're interested, the war is where practice is. You step into the war and do battle. The war is between the way we think we should be and who we are. We're all caught in the feeling that we should be some other way.
Yeah, we step into the war and do battle.
We don't stuff it, feel it. Feel the disconnect between who we think we should be and who we are. She says, perhaps we think we should be kind, patient, forgiving, long suffering, charitable, and compassionate. It's awful. Not saying the qualities themselves are awful. But to hold those qualities up to ourselves as the way we should be, is about the worst way of ever getting to look like that. Maybe we're none of those things, or at least not very many of those things. And then we feel guilty and have to hide it
so many people are living trying to live up to an image of how they think that they should be. Think almost everyone does that to one degree or another of our little tricks are ways of appearing to be together, gray shading ourselves to other people. Takes some energy to sustain that. And it puts us in current conflict with who we actually are going to be I've read a little bit from Anthony de Mello, because he's really on point in this whole business about are we a good person or a bad person then just pick up here where he says, I am not saying there is no such thing as pure motivation. I'm saying that ordinarily, everything we do is in our self interest, everything. When you do something for the love of Christ, is that selfishness? Yes. When you're doing something for the love of anybody, it's in your self interest. I have to explain that. Suppose you happen to live in Phoenix and you feed over 500 children a day. That gives you a good feeling? Well, would you expect it to give you a bad feeling? Sometimes it does. And that is because there are some people who do things so that they won't have to have a bad feeling. And they call that charity. They act out of guilt. That isn't love. But thank God, you do things for people, and it's pleasurable, wonderful. You're a healthy individual, because you're self interested. that's healthy. Let me summarize what I was saying about selfless charity, said there were two types of selfishness. Maybe I should have said three. First, when I do something, or rather, when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing myself. Second, when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing others, don't take pride in that. Don't think you're a great person. You're a very ordinary person. But you've got refined tastes, your taste is good, not the quality of your spirituality. When you were a child, you liked Coca Cola. Now you've grown older, and you appreciate chilled beer on a hot day. You've got better tastes. Now, when you were a child. You love chocolates. Now you're older, you enjoy a symphony, you enjoy a poem. You've got better tastes. But you're getting your pleasure all the same, except now it's in the pleasure of pleasing others. Then you've got the third type, which is the worst. When you do something good so that you won't get a bad feeling. It doesn't give you a good feeling to do it. It gives you a bad feeling to do it. You hate it. You're making loving sacrifices, but you're grumbling. how little you know of yourself, if you think you don't do things this way. If I had $1, for every time I did things that gave me a bad feeling I'd be a millionaire by now. You know how it goes? Could I beat you tonight? Father? Yes. Come on in. I don't want to meet him. I hate meeting him. I want to watch that TV show tonight. But how do I say no to him? I don't have the guts to say no, come on in. I'm thinking oh god, I've got to put up with this pain. It doesn't give me a good feeling to meet with him. And it doesn't give me a good feeling to say no to him. So I choose the lesser of the two evils. And I say, okay, come on in. I'm going to be happy when this thing is over. And I'll be able to take my smile off. But I start the session with him. How are you? Wonderful, he says. And he goes on and on about how he loves that workshop. And I'm thinking, oh God, when is he going to come to the point? Finally he comes to the point. And I metaphorically slam him against the wall and say, well, any fool can solve that kind of problem. And I send him out. Got rid of him. I say and the next morning at breakfast because I'm feeling I was so rude. I go up to him and I say how's life? And the answer is pretty good. And he adds you know what you said to me last night was a real help. Can I meet you again today after lunch? Oh God
Okay, back to Joko.
Since we're all caught in the feeling that we should be some other way. Perhaps we think we should be kind of patient forgiving, long suffering charitable and compassionate. It's awful. I'm not saying all these qualities are awful. But to hold these qualities up to ourselves as the way we should be is about the worst way of ever getting to look like that
maybe we're none of those things, or at least not very many of those things. We could say not very often those things and then we feel guilty and have to hide it. The war is between wanting pleasure or ease or success and being with the truth that life doesn't care about our pleasure. or ease or success, it will be the way it is. Perhaps we know this intellectually, but we feel we should be more okay with it. I should accept this, I should do it. I should be a good person, I should be unselfish. How are we really just the way we are. Being just the way we are, enables us to transform if we can really see it and experience it. Whether you're upset, annoyed, irritated, or moody, the war is on. The question to ask yourself is, how is it supposed to be? And how is it really? We could add to that, if it sucks, what do I do?
Says because we believe we are a certain way, and the world is a certain way. We're therefore compelled to act in a certain way. This is the world in our mind, the world that creates nothing but havoc for ourselves and others, you can go to our deaths, clinging to this world, let's say probably most people do. We say we don't cling to it. But we're terrified not to have it. Terrified not to have it. We only know the way we are. Even if our ways of acting, or habitual reactions are dysfunctional, we're terrified to change them to really change them. I play around on the edges a little bit, but it's it's scary to really accept our lives the way they are. Dread there. But she says yet, something within us because that capacity is always there, doesn't want to keep living this way. That's one side of practice. The other side of practice is just being the witness, the observer, really seeing every thought you have not judging it, not analyzing it, not doing anything with it. Just seeing seeing, seeing, seeing, seeing it as that seeing deepens, it captures not just salt thoughts, but the body sensations that arise with those thoughts. Here's where you begin to know your body to know the shades of emotion running through it from morning till night. It's a cool, cold practice, meticulous and precise. Interesting image, cool cold. Reminds me of the image she has of the icy couch. Basically to be with our pain. She quotes from a guy named Ben Why can't remember what his first name is. Maybe Herbert says, Let me at least rest on that icy couch. Let me not flinch from what's really going on.
Take it in and allow it to transform. This is exactly what go goo is saying. She says this site of practice takes diligence. I'm sorry to tell you, it's no easier than practicing with our core belief. And here I've got to take a little side trip and explain what she means by core belief.
Reading from that earlier talk, which is called it turns out the icy couch. She says every single person over the age of two or three has a core belief. It's just the nature of being human to have one. This core belief is not something true. It's always negative. And this is because it is the product of the ego or separate self, the nature of which is to feel threatened. Nothing is truly separate. So if we feel separate, we feel threatened. The separate self use life something that either might please me, but I can't count on this or threatened me. So there's always tension and uncertainty there. As small children when we feel threat or actual pain, we try to separate from it. Usually without conscious thought. We have to figure out how to handle this very difficult and even putting Actually life threatening situation, that without any fault of our own, we find ourselves in. Young children are so dependent and so helpless. Wonder if there's anything more tragic than the abusive children think about the poor kids in the Ukraine, the middle of that nightmare.
She says it is in figuring out how to respond to something out of our control, that we formulate a negative belief about ourselves. This young ego, the separate self is frightened and angry. And the core belief arises out of this situation, we often first experience this belief as a scream, I can't, I won't help.
I remember when I was a kid, something happened. I no longer remember what it was. But I was really, really angry with my mother. So I'm lying on my back in bed, bawling my eyes out as best I can. And I find myself saying I want my mommy, I want my mommy. I realized wait. So I switched. I want my daddy, I thought. Yeah, sort of what what? What am I doing here?
She says the older we are, the more this core belief gets hardened and buried, requiring more practice to uncover once we're old enough to have awareness of these structures, that I think it is appropriate to refer to the core belief as an also a core decision. I don't think it's a conscious decision. But okay, a core decision, the decision to continue to live our lives in this anxious way. always on the lookout for what's coming.
The children also feel responsible for the bad things that happened to them. Not sure totally why this is, but it's really, really natural. There must be something wrong with me. She says, we all have a core belief. We may not know it yet. But if you haven't thought about your life this way, if you may not know it yet, if you haven't thought about your life this way, but it's there. I'm not saying it's all you are, but it's there to some degree or another. If you've practiced for many years and are aware of it, maybe it's very weak and almost non functional, but it's there. And it will come up, particularly in times of crisis. There's times when we're our capacity is overwhelmed and we decompensate she says our work is to know and experience the core belief so we can understand the way we sabotage ourselves. For most of us, it comes down to some version of I feel worthless, that can look like I'm not enough. I'm hopeless. I can't do anything. I'm disgusting. I'm not lovable. There are a lot of variations, but always on the same separate miserable state. Of course, even behind this core belief, is that sense of separation. All comes from our delusion that we're here and the world is out there. She says this belief is like the hub of a wheel. out of it come the spokes, the systems and strategies we use. So we don't have to feel the pain of this false core belief. But in short, it's too painful to bear. We can't stand to feel it. There is no one who can stand to feel absolutely unlovable. People who feel their core belief strongly and remain unconscious of it often withdraw more and more and begin to do harm. Not just talking about extreme cases here. To some degree, we all do this. We cannot bear to feel so bad. So we develop our different strategies. Sometimes they're aggressive. Sometimes they're placating. Very nice, charming, they can be anything. They may look wonderful in the eyes of the world, or they may look disgraceful in the eyes of the world depending on how you're working this out within yourself. The important thing is not the particular content of your strategies, but you note but that you notice that they are strategies and begin to trace the spokes back to the hub.
All these strategies are designed to keep us from feeling the pain that saying everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. This is the battle that we're fighting.
Okay, that's the short version of what she means by the core belief. And she says, it can take years of practice and patience, being aware of our thoughts day after day after day, noticing what's happening in the body, moment after moment, sitting is relaxing eventually. But for many years, it can also be a lot of hard work. You don't necessarily get immediate satisfaction, you get your true life eventually, if you stick with it. But because we have so much pain, most of us would rather choose immediate pleasure than our true life. We want life to please us right now. And all of us make compromises. have that extra doughnut, to avoid the pain of not? No one's perfect. But we can see it.
So why do we practice, because our true self is there, yearning for the freedom and spaciousness. That is our true life. If you want your life to truly transform, you do this, by just staying with a mess, you stay in it. A lot of practices, just sheer persistence and patience with the confusion. And if you are patient, it's as if in the midst of being in this messy room of your life, you notice you've left the window open, and in comes a little bird of wisdom. It won't stay long at first, maybe it just appears that the window chirps and flies away. But if you stay still and patient, it returns, if you're hospitable, it might even come and live with you for a little while for a week or so. And you get a different look at your life.
Of course, when we experience that, when that little bird appears, everything settles out. ease and lightness suddenly appear. Difficult practice suddenly seems easy. Want to bottle it, keep it it's like Xingyi NS image of catching a feather on a fan. The minute we try to grab it, it blows away.
Nevertheless, as she says if you stay still and patient, it returns we see it more and more.
She says How is it supposed to be our hope? That is our habitual unexamined hope is that if we run our lives according to our core belief, it will lead to pleasure. It will lead to satisfaction. It will lead to the life we've always wanted. Then somebody tells you to do this other kinds of stuff. This is Zen stuff, really watch, observe and feel. We don't want to do that. We've got to get back out there and the buzz of thinking the endless swarm of thoughts. We don't want to observe those thoughts. We don't want to feel the tensions of the body as we play with them.
If you stay with your practice, slowly, but surely you begin to see what you're really doing, as opposed to what you think you're doing. How is it really this struggle isn't pointless. The struggle is in fact, absolutely important. Old Buddhist texts talk about having your head in the fire. There has to be struggle in practice. Without the struggle that slow learning doesn't begin to emerge. That fire refines you as you stay with it. Most of us need at least a little support somewhere a little help. That's why I run recommend you find a teacher or a partner, community to practice with takes a lot of work to stay with this nasty struggle, it can take a lifetime. The good news is that since the struggle changes the way you see yourself, the struggle itself changes, doesn't require as much effort in this war between the way we think things should be, and the way they really are, there are moments of truth. The two sides come together for coffee and cookies, and enjoy themselves just fine. With practice, we don't win the war. But we have moments of peace. Then when the truce is over, we go back into battle. But we can enjoy ourselves for a little bit. And these little bits get longer and longer. We may dread practice, but we value the life that comes out of it, we begin to stop battling, and instead experience the freshness of seeing in a much more honest way. A life of practice is the most rewarding, the most exciting, and the most alive thing you can do. But it is no piece of cake.
She says we made red practice, practice, but we value the life that comes out of it. That makes it easier to do. It's what Google was talking about. Confidence based on experience. We realize that even though we resist, we're changing things that seemed impossible. aren't so difficult anymore. pain that was intractable. it's manageable. You become willing, God Willing and more willing, it's easier. seems counterintuitive, but think we all understand it.
Marsha Linehan, I think I read from her on the first day, the creator of kind of therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, said the path out of hell is through misery. By refusing to accept the misery that is climbing out of hell, you fall back into hell.
Stead we go into battle, but hopefully eventually become happy warriors. So much value to the fight. So much benefit for ourselves and for others, for our families, our friends. People we work with together in the Zendo.
going to move on to another section. Another talk. It's entitled no effort, tremendous effort. She says if you sit long enough, you'll experience hating to sit, loving it, being impressed by it, thinking it's a bunch of nonsense, and finding the whole thing dreary. Practice is always the same regardless of what you bring to it. Whether you're young or old, happy or sad. Practice never varies. In that way it contains us and gives us the space to experience whatever it is, it doesn't get in the way. There have always been two schools of Buddhist thought about practicing meditation. One school holds that the practice requires no effort. This is true. It really doesn't. You just being what you're being the other school holds the practice requires tremendous effort. This is also true. To be aware of what you're doing takes tremendous effort. I remember being mad at my youngest daughter once it's really mad at her. I just wanted to be right because of course I was right. I wanted to say a few well chosen, but slightly cutting things that would just settle it. So it really I had this turmoil. I knew from years of practice, the harm my words would do. And at the same time, I could sense how much I wanted to do it. But I could also sense that what I most wanted was To be close to her and to do no harm, I felt that experience gets stronger, until I began to see that I had no choice. I had to go over and put my arms around her. Of course, then the whole thing was just wonderful. And about 10 seconds. As opposed to creating a miserable situation, we created a wonderful one.
I had a similar experience early in my career and a one of the steps of a is when we were wrong, promptly admitted it a lot of talk about how to deal with anger. And I was having an argument with my wife. And like, joke back, I was right. And I caught myself, just as she caught herself. And I couldn't do it, I had to be right. But even that, even that that failure was progress. Because the next time I did, I was able to turn it around, let go of my rightness. It takes practice. She says the desire to be right is so powerful years of sitting meditation are not a guarantee of happiness, or really of anything. But that depth of experience may give you those few seconds to sense of what you want most in a situation. And to act from that. Those few seconds are why we sit and sit and sit. We're building something that can in the moment, help help us make the choice we most want. That ability increases over time. Not only helps us make the choice, it helps us know what that choice is.
She says, I find that practicing well takes effort. At the same time to experience life as it is without any trying thinking or doing is to experience effortlessness. How are both these things true. Life is often the struggle, we have things we want to happen and stuff that we think and believe should happen that doesn't. We're tired of the struggle. And yet to give up the core belief that is keeping us in the struggle takes constant attention. It takes constant attention because we're going against the grain of our habit. So hard not to do what we've always done. It's so natural, to try and fail. To try and fail, try and succeed. try and fail. Good, bad, good bad.
ventually, we realize we just do our best.
She says to the extent that I'm living an incomplete life, it requires effort to experience more of reality. Our habit is to narrow down what we think of as, as reality, to suit what we think of as, quote our lives. To get the senses to let the senses physical reality and the bigger picture emerge. unfiltered, by our belief is scary. The effort is not willing. The effort is our willingness to turn toward the unknown of this moment and stay there. We stay there without doing or thinking anything. That's where the effortlessness emerges. Our practice is to be aware of what's going on as soon as we can. Usually for the first second or longer we get caught believing our thoughts. It takes effort not to hold on tightly to our continents. But with practice, the continents doesn't stay as long. We notice we're caught and in the noticing the constriction loosens. So Japanese Zen teacher, which Yama Roshi uses the phrase, opening the hand of thought.
She says, thought comes into our mind, usually we do grab onto it. Notice and release. Notice and release back to the practice back to our method
A lot of these things, core belief dealing with anger what do they have to do with our method? They're the things that keep us keep us from uniting with Mu keep us from being the breath. Keeping us keep us from pure awareness. The tide we get swept up in again and again.
She says we think we have to change something to do something. It sounds like a lot of work. But primarily when we talk about effort in practice, the effort is just turning our awareness to our own experience. And then staying there again and again. Staying in this moment
there isn't something we need to change, it will change but we're not going to do it isn't something we have to do? She says we talk about effort, and we talk about effortlessness. But really we are talking about making a choice. What do we have a choice about and what don't we, when we feel hurt by someone, we have a choice to rest attentively with that hurt, instead of turning away toward comfort, justification, or even despair?
It's interesting sometimes, when we're hurt, rather than seeking comfort, we turn to despair. Pile pain on top of pain. I guess the comfort is in feeling the victim.
Practice we deliberately use our attention to raise questions. What am I doing? What's going on here? We ask these questions as a challenge. So that awareness can float something up to ask the questions and leave behind our old familiar way of thinking takes effort. Other words for this effort could be diligence or attention. But what we find once we turn away from the comfort with practice is effortlessness. effortlessness doesn't mean, nice and comfortable. It just means we are aware that we are allowing what is to simply be, there is no choice here, no straining, therefore effortless.
She says, we turn away from the comfort, just to repeat is not always comfort. Sometimes Sometimes it's just our routine. I guess there's comfort in that. We think we're going to find it. It's what's predictable. Its usual. So our default mode, habit pattern. As Westerners, everything in our lives is supposed to move onward and upward and become better and more successful. Using that backdrop, we often think our own behavior or someone else's behavior is not so great. We want to change something so we can go someplace different or be with someone different. Our true effort is to go our true effort is to go toward an awareness of what's really going on with us. To be aware, for example, that your body is tense, doesn't take effort. It is just awareness. To be aware of your thoughts as they bubble up doesn't take too much effort. It's just like watching a TV look. In a sense, it's effortless. But until we know ourselves well enough not to get caught. It feels like effort to keep turning towards what's uncomfortable and not to fall into old ways of being.
Later on, she says, Life may have seemed easier before we began to feel how angry and scared we are. When we practice we do feel hurt more but as a conscious hurt. We witness our own hurt and we can sit with it. And in that sitting we hurt ourselves and others less our attention lessons. We begin to feel along with the pain, some effortlessness.
That's the end of that particular talk. So it's a good place to stop and we'll recite the four vows